Virus, Worms and Hackers

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Virus, Worms and Hackers

Computer viruses were first widely seen in the late 1980s. They were caused due to several reasons. The first factor was rapid growth of personal computers. Before this decade personal computers were not seen in many houses. They only computers used were expert computers which were locked in laboratories around the world. During the 1980’s Computers started to sell to several smaller business’s and homes after the release of the IBM PC in 1982 [1]. After its launch, personal computers slowly started spreading to businesses, homes and universities around the world.

The second reason was bulletin boards where users could dial up a bulletin board with a modem and download different programs [2]. The most popular programs were games. Users also downloaded simple word processors and spreadsheets. Bulletin boards led to the precursor of the virus which is know today as the Trojan horse. Trojan horse is a program which can trick the user in to downloading it. This can be done very easily changing the name of the file. When a Trojan program is downloaded on a local computer it can do a lot of harm to it. It can potentially erase all the contents of the hard disk on the computer. Trojan horses hit a small number of people because they are discovered easily. Either the bulletin board would erase the file from the system or the people would send out messages to warn one another. The third reason was growth of floppy disks. Many programs could fit into a single floppy disk. Most computers did have hard disks so computers would just load everything off the floppy when switched on including the operating system.

Computer viruses can be very mysterious and grab our attention. Viruses can show us how vulnerable we are to attacks. A well engineered virus can have a very harmful effect on the internet. An example of this is the worms we have seen in the last few years. MyDoom worm which infected a quarter million computers in a single shook the whole internet community. In March 1999 the Mellisa virus was so powerful, it forced many large companies including Microsoft to completely turn off their email systems until the virus could be contained. The ILOVEYOU worm in 2000 had a similar effect. The most astonishing thing is that these worms were very simple in their implementation. Worms usually exploit some sort of security hole in a piece of software or operating system.

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"Virus, Worms and Hackers." 19 Jun 2018
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For example the Slammer worm which emerged in January 2003 exploited a hole in Microsoft SQL server. It was just a tiny 376 byte which caused all the damage.

Computer viruses are called so because of their common traits to biological viruses. A computer virus passes from computer to computer just like a biological virus passes from person to person. There are many similarities between the two. A biological virus is not a living thing, it is a fragment of DNA inside a protective jacket. It uses the cells existing machinery to reproduce itself. A computer virus shares some of these traits. A computer virus piggybacks on top of some other program to get executed. Once it runs, it connects to infect other programs and documents.

Preventing Virus Attacks

There are many steps users should take prevent their computers from getting attacked by viruses and worms [2]. A few of them are listed below.

1. Users should try to run more secure operating system like UNIX. The reasons are that
generally UNIX has more security features and fewer hackers likely to attack it.

2. Virus Protection software is nice safeguard against unsecured operating system. A
lot of anti-virus software’s are available for purchase and the users have to
ability to do a live update for patches against latest viruses and worms.

3. Computers Users should avoid programs from unknown sources from internet and use
commercial software bought on CD’s. This helps in eliminating a lot of risks due to
traditional viruses. Also the option of booting from floppy disks should be disabled
as this will eliminate the risk of a boot sector virus coming in from a floppy disk
accidentally left on the drive.

4. Users should use Macro Virus Protection feature in Microsoft Application, and users
should never run macros in a document unless they know what they do.

5. Never double click and executable attachment from an email. A good practice is run a
latest virus can on any attachment that comes from an email. Files will .EXE, .COM
and .VBS are executable extensions. A lot of worms these days also contain a .ZIP

Legal Actions

The following laws summarize the legislative action taken by America to combat this issue.

1. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (as amended Oct 3, 1996)

If an individual knowingly accesses a computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access, and by means of such conduct obtained information that has been determined by the government to cause harm he will be prosecuted [3].

2. Patriot Act (2001)

The Patriot act of 2001 contains some of the most substantial changed to US Federal cyber crime laws since the last 1996 [9]. Many of these changes will have a direct impact on the way networked firms prepare and react to cyber crimes incidents; The USA Patriot Act was rushed thought the congress as a response to a plea from the Justice Department to enhance the investigatory and prosecutorial powers of those perusing the potential terrorist in the wake of September 2001. This act expanded federal surveillance and search powers, increased interagency cooperation. This act allows the Government to prosecute foreign nationals. Many governments have taken individual steps to combat hackers but none were of the scale of the patriot act [10].

Ethical Issue

Internet is a public property. There are very few laws that govern the internet. Hackers take advantage of this point to support their cause. They believe the internet is not regulated or governed and believe that any computer connected to the internet is public property. Just because someone connects their computer to the internet doesn’t mean they are consenting to anyone accessing their computer [4].

The problem of viruses and worms is a global one. Every country is affected by the spread of viruses spreading around the global network. Any worm which comes out has a potential of affecting every computer connected to the internet. The spread of these worms of these worms effect the economies of every country.

In the early days of the internet, the packets that encapsulated date in transit were handled without concern what was within the packet. However, recently many efforts have been taken to impose new regulations and responsibilities to organizations which are connected to the internet. Internet security service providers enjoy a safe harbor under American and European law that gives many exemptions from liabilities of the traffic they carry. The software companies are also safe from these liabilities. Their products however, are full of bugs that hackers generally use to attack them and ultimately his effect the consumers. Most of the internet traffic around the US at some point goes through the routers located in America and thus the US has can take a huge step in making laws to combat the spread of viruses.

Compared to the US and Europe, Asia is not any less vulnerable to virus and worm attacks. When it comes to infection, the US generally leads the pack due to the much higher penetration of computer literacy, computer and internet usage among the population. But there is no boundary when it comes to these attacks because it is very easy for them spread anywhere [8].

The ILOVEYOU virus originated in the Philippines, the CIH from Taiwan and the AnnaKournikova virus is said to be originated from Argentina. There is no way for an vendor to detect these viruses and worms before they break out and generally patches and issued after the break out of such infections. Many worms are started on distributed list where users from all over the world login. There are many hours and sometimes days before a fix is issued. Tracking down hackers and perpetrators of viruses can prove to be very tough. Sometime the makers of these programs are never caught.

The figure below gives a country wide break down of the number of infections seen due to some prominent worm attacks in the last few years. As can be seen from the figure, US leads the packs followed closely by Europe and then Asia. However each country suffers a lot of financial damage to these infections.

Countries Worm.Klez.H Nimda-AO Code Red VBS_Love Melissa. A Total %
(since April since Sept (since Aug Lttr.Be (since Dec
17, 2002) 22, 2001) 2001) (since Aug 6, 1999)
28, 2000)
North 90,504 304,666 38 36,816 15,742 447,766 40.32
Europe 44,018 266,955 11 6,465 4,527 321,976 28.99
Asia 45,967 61,981 48 4,485 4,423 116,904 10.52
South 14,152 1,226 0 539 3,910 19,827 1.79
Africa 7,099 110,592 0 1,666 1,791 121,148 10.91
Australia/ 6,435 71,420 3 3,955 284 82,097 7.39
New Zealand
Unknown 253 393 1 185 74 906 0.08
Total 208,428 817,233 101 54,111 30,751 1,110,624 100
The Number of Computers Infected In Some Countries by The Various High-Profile Viruses/Worms

Hackers give many reasons to support their cause [4]. They believe the internet is not owned by anyone. However any hackers who breaks into a system with malicious intent is guilty of the crime and should be prosecuted. This can be compared to a person’s house. Just because it is connected to a public street does not means that anyone can break into their house. The same goes for a computer which is connected to the internet, just because it is connected to the internet does not give anyone the right to break in it without the consent of the owner.

Besides being illegal, hackers can be very dangerous to person’s privacy too. If personal information stored on the computer gets in the wrong hands the consequences can devastating. Every hacker should be prosecuted.

Ethical Analysis

Now we take a look at the ethics of viruses and worms from within a framework for ethical decision making from different known ethical perspectives [7].

Virtue perspective: Virtues play a central role a central role of virtues of moral theory. Virtues are grounded in and emerge from social traditions. Every culture has fundamental ideals such as truth, beauty, fidelity, sincerity and purity. Virtues have perceived as traits of character that dispose a persona to moral actions. Hackers are not virtues in their actions. Many of the worms published around the world are made programmers who want to harm or bring down the internet and these programs are made for fun and sometimes just as an experiment which goes bad.

Justice Theory: Justice is identified by obeying the law and treating everyone and fairly. Computer hackers violate the legal rights of an individual. Many governments have now taken strict actions to prosecute the wrongdoers. Each government must make sure that no specific community is targeted. Hackers do not belong to any community they come from around the world from different religions and community from Taiwan to American. No theory from a justice and fairness approach with approves their actions.

Right perspective: Every Computer user, businesses and government’s organization have rights. The hackers clearly violate these rights by their attacks. Each virus or worm published on the internet violates user’s rights. Some viruses can invade the personal privacy of the individuals concerned too and the right to privacy is very serious right violation. Hackers on the other hand have no right to make viruses and worms.

Utilitarian perspective: The utilitarian perspective focuses on the greatest human benefit over the burden and this leads to an ethical decision. The view from the perspective is very clear. The benefit of making legislation against hackers is necessary as this will provide more benefits over harm. The number of hackers is too small compared to the populations of effected users and businesses. Prosecuting them will be providing much more human benefit.


Virus, worms and hackers are a global problem. The emergence of these attacks in the last few years has made the world realize how vulnerable we are to these attacks. Very simple programs can cause havoc around the world. The creators of such software’s have to take more responsibility in making more secure software. Internet Service Providers also needs to take many more precautions than they usually do to ensure secure and safe traffic passes through the global internet. All governments should follow America in making more strict Laws against hackers. The US clearly needs push to world to enact stricter laws because it will suffer the most due to any attacks on the internet. At the same time users of personal computers should follow steps to secure their personal computers.


1. IBM PC, model 5150 < >
2. How Computer Viruses Work < >
3. US Federal Anti Hacking Laws < >
4. Is it fair to Label Hackers and Crackers as Hackers < >
5. Ethical Hacking < >
6. Computer Ethics < >
7. Framework for Ethical Decision Making
< >
8. Computer Worms Costing Billions Globally < >
9. Act Strengthens America's Arsenal < >
10. Hackers as terrorists? <
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